The Infamous Stringdusters continue to stretch the limits of bluegrass with their latest release
With the April release of their fifth studio album, Let it Go, the Infamous Stringdusters really did let something go. And not just the traditional boundaries of bluegrass, which the Grammy-nominated quintet has been pushing (but never breaking) since the dawn of their career.
“When you’re working on art, conceiving it, creating it, there are only so many mantras that can be in your head at one time,” says banjo player Chris Pandolfi. “I think in lieu of a good mantra in the studio you’re just thinking to yourself, ‘I want to get this right. I don’t want to get this wrong.’ With this album, we knew we had to get way beyond that kind of thinking.”
So when the Stringdusters went to work on their latest album, it was their impeccable focus on each and every song that gave way to a freeing epiphany: it was more important for them to try to create a feeling than worry about making sure their live performances were technically proficient. As a result, the songs on Go do more than simply give you reason to play air guitar or tap your toes in time with the music. They go deep, musically and lyrically, and they make you feel something—nostalgia for days gone by, a buoyant anticipation for those yet to come, and an introspective vibe that is more prominent on this album than in their earlier work. And that, according to Pandolfi, was their aim.
“We wanted to go into the zone where we were thinking, ‘I want to convey something here in my performance that transcends the more surface-level ideas of right and wrong,’” he says. “We wanted to make sure we played like we really meant it.”
Go features a number of crisp performances from the band. The bluegrass number “Winds of Change” is one of the album’s liveliest, and “Summercamp” is a glorious folk/Americana hybrid recalling young love. “Colorado”—a funky piece of acoustic country—is arguably the album’s most unique entry, in which the Stringdusters sing about the urge to loosen up their tie and breathe. And on this album, loosening up went beyond throwing their worries about the live setting to the wind.
“[Initially] we thought we’d use more production to make something that wasn’t fully recreateable on stage, to embrace the concept that in the studio you do something different than you do on stage. That way, you aren’t constantly worrying, ‘If I record something I’m not able to play, why am I recording it?’” says Pandolfi. “We’ve gotten over that, and [this time] we were thinking ‘Let’s get really creative.’”
Along with their unpredictable, knock-out performances, the Stringdusters’ loyalty to their creative impulses has helped them amass a solid following over the years. And these fans don’t simply love the band’s music—they have also grown to love each other, becoming a community unto themselves. And they’ve given the band more than they could have hoped for in return.
“We just played a gig and a guy said to me afterwards, ‘I started playing banjo because of you,’” says Pandolfi. “I told him, ‘Man, you don’t even know. That’s the biggest compliment you could ever give.’ That’s the payback that nobody tells you about when you’re getting into music. You don’t anticipate those things, but when you start getting that feedback, you realize that there is more to what you’re doing than the sometimes selfish-feeling pursuit of practicing and playing all day.”
The Infamous Stringdusters will perform at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 16, Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15/advance, $20/door. For more information, call 479-1854.